All Dogs go to Heaven – Saying Goodbye to a Black Dog

In May of 2009 we adopted a wonderful black dog named Maddy and made ourselves a happy little pack, Jim, Rhonda, and black dog. We loved it so much that we even bought one of the best lens for dog photography to take pictures of Maddy.

Now she is gone, and our hearts are breaking.

Maddy chose me out of a crowd of people on a street corner in NW Portland. While being walked by a volunteer at Pixie Project Rescue she walked up to me, sat on my foot and leaned into me as she licked my hand. I was a goner. I immediately called Jim, asked how to make my dog an emotional support dog and within 48 hours we had become a family. We know nothing of Maddy’s past. She was skinny with a dull coat and the hair rubbed off the bridge of her nose. Although, when we took her in, she had been vomiting frequently. The vets thought she was around 10 years old and we only knew she was very well mannered and had been found on the streets in Southwest Washington.

First day at the beach

Maddy immediately became the fuzzy, tail-wagging, smiling center of our family. Although we had been dog owners in the past, Maddy was different. She was content to patrol her yard doing perimeter control and peruse her area from the comfort of the front porch, but she was only truly happy when the pack was together and we, too, were at our happiest when hanging as a group.

Maddy helping daddy fish

Although she had slowed down over the last several months, we had taken it to be simply the slowing of age. She still loved to swim, fetch and hike and we made frequent camping trips. One week after our return from the San Juans, however, we were woken up by her distressed breathing late at night. After calming her down, her breathing became a bit less stressful but continued to be labored. The vets originally believed it to be a lung issue and we waited several days to see if it would correct itself, hoping it was a touch of pneumonia or a virus picked up on vacation.

Maddy’s favorite spot in the world was the beach. From her initial reaction to our first beach trip as a family, we fully believe she’d never been prior and we will never forget the first time we took her. She gingerly stepped onto the sand, sniffing excitedly, when Jim took her off her leash and encouraged her to run into the surf. She ran a few steps before stopping to look back at us with that, now familiar smile on her face, and an expression that clearly said “REALLY, I can go and play?!” right before she took off into the waves and proceeded to run the entire beach that day, scooping up water in her mouth as she jumped amongst the surf. From that day on she couldn’t get enough of a day at the beach.

Her breathing did not improve and she had lost interest in eating and several days after the initial vet visit Jim took an afternoon off to head back to the vet for chest x-rays. What we had hoped was a simple inflammation turned out to be news we dreaded, she had a tumor growing on her heart, her breathing was labored due to the fluid accumulating in her chest cavity, and there was no cure. Standing in the exam room I felt my heart crash. Of course, we knew in adopting an older dog we would not have an extended life together but how could this be happening?

Maddy was a smiler, unlike any dog I’ve ever seen. She loved to stroll the neighborhood and regularly dropped her favorite tennis ball onto an unsuspecting lap just to let someone know that she was amendable to a good game of fetch. She learned she was capable of swimming at Lake Billy Chinook, originally attempting to lift her legs higher and higher to walk on top of the water until I encouraged her to come in deep enough to begin to swim. The look of wonderment on her face is one I will never forget and from then on it was difficult to get her out of the lake.

The vets word reverberated in my brain and I felt weak in the knees…inoperable tumor, no treatment, a matter of weeks…. it had to be wrong, we had just come in for antibiotics, perhaps, not a death sentence! Jim was as overwhelmed by the information as I,  while Maddy nudged my side saying “let’s get out of here”. She looked fine, was breathing easier, surely this vet didn’t know what she was talking about, although the syringe of blood colored liquid said otherwise.

Maddy was incredibly expressive and we never needed to try to figure out what she was thinking. When we first bought a crate for her to sleep in, she absolutely made it clear this was not for her. And so, we got rid of the crate and Maddy made the corner of our bedroom behind the pappasan chair her “safe” place. It was her favorite bedtime spot and the place she most liked to curl up. One day I had a wild hair and decided to re-arrange some furniture, moving the pappasan into a different bedroom and placing one of her dog beds in the corner. When it was time for bed she walked into the room, looked at the pad in the corner, looked at Jim and then gave me a look that VERY clearly said “and what the HELL do you think you are doing with this?” I tried to encourage her to get on her pad, a place she often slept, and she merely sat down and gave me that look. Well trained parents that we are, her pappasan immediately went back into it’s proper place and she let out a huge sigh and went to bed. I learned my lesson and never again considered moving her chair!

The vet had been able to draw a great deal of the fluid from around her chest cavity, making it much easier for her to breath. We were told it was a slow growing tumor and had probably been working for months to get to this point. As always, things are clear in retrospect and we remembered vividly that walk on the beach in April when she had come back to camp much more tired than normal and our concern for her when we did the annual Doggie Dash in early May. Obviously those incidents were the beginning of the end. Now, it was just a matter of time.

Maddy was an expert at making us laugh, from her back pose w/ her legs splayed in all directions while she snored, to her smiles when we came home from a day at work, to the kisses I got first thing every morning when I rolled over and said “good morning love bug”. If we were feeling ill or out of sorts she would stay close all day, offering up as many kisses as we could stand, and delighting us with her particularly adorable swaying gait while out hiking. She even helped choose her bandana for the week by nosing one of the options presented to her.

Because she was in no pain and her breathing had improved, we had high hopes for more time together. The vet even made it seem a possibility to draw out more fluid at a later time if she continued to do well otherwise. We changed her to a diet of partly canned food to encourage her to eat more, modified our pace and length of walk to increasingly shorter and slower distances as her heart continued to decline, we removed the dog gates that had contained her in the kitchen and outside during the day so she had full rein of the house. With her outdoor security duties lessened with her weakening condition, she took to spending much of her time on the bed, faithfully guarding my pillow. In short, she became even more spoiled than before.

I love to remember all of the favorite things she got to do in her last couple of weeks. Even to the end, she was a happy girl. Although she no longer raced down the driveway to meet us at the gate, she still came out to say hello with sloppy kisses. We went camping at Lower Lake and to the beach for one last weekend there. Her smiles broke my heart and I have rarely felt such joy at being able to give her that one final wonderful day at her favorite spot.

Playing footsie with Mommy on the beach

The speed of her decline was quick and devastating. Only 3 weeks after she was running the beach and swimming in the bay in the San Juans, she could barely walk to the end of our street and back. All we could do was make her as happy and comfortable as possible and allow her to lick away our frequent tears. We raced home after work even quicker than usual, wanting to spend as much time together as we could. When her breathing again became labored on Thursday morning I called to schedule an appointment for the next day, praying we could simply draw more fluid and have a few more precious weeks together.

Instead, that evening she was much worse. I felt temporary hope when she accepted me hand feeding her dinner and she drank water but Jim & I were both in tears, knowing that this time was different. We spent the evening trying to pretend it wasn’t happening, that if we all just went to bed we’d wake up on Friday and it would all be okay. But Maddy was a smart girl and she knew her time was over. Too uncomfortable to lie down, she sat by the side of the bed and gave me her ever knowing look. We got down on the floor with her, trying to help her get comfortable, crying and stroking her while telling her how much we loved her, all the while knowing that in taking her into our hearts, we made the promise that when it was time we wouldn’t let her suffer.

A late night trip to Dove Lewis vet hospital became inevitable. Even in her weakend condition, when Maddy saw her leash come out and the car keys she practically hopped with joy out the door and into the car, wondering what adventure we were headed towards. With the back windows down so she could fully participate in that dog loving sport of sniffing the world, she was as happy as she could be under the circumstances.

After a very short exam, where the vet immediately realized she was in heart failure, they needed to take her to a different room to put her port in and give her a sedative to help her along. Reluctant to leave us, she rested her chin on my knee and looked up as if to say “mommy, do I have to?” before we encouraged her to go. In that final room, we all cuddled on blankets on the floor together and she peacefully and quickly slipped away while we held her in our arms. Together to the end.

I don’t fully have the words to express what she meant in our lives. Her unfaltering and unconditional love made us all better.  Hope and loyalty and love all came wrapped up in a fuzzy black package w/ eyebrows that reminded all of Jim’s grandpa Watson, representing  all the best the world has to offer.

We so appreciate the love and support of all of our friends and the amazing staff both at our regular vet, Milner Vet Clinic and Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital, as they all cried real tears with us, recognizing what an amazing dog she was. There will never be another like her. We love you Maddy, with all of our hearts, and will see you in our dreams until we can be together again.

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27 thoughts on “All Dogs go to Heaven – Saying Goodbye to a Black Dog

  1. I AM SO SAD. Rhonda, I am literally laying here crying. Such a beautiful tribute to an amazing dog. I know how much you loved her and I know she loved you. You gave her an amazing life. I am sending big hugs to you, my friends.

    • Thanks so much Kim. It’s been a weekend full of tears and also lots of laughter as we reminisced about our wonderful life with her. We were all truly blessed to have found eachother! We’ve had so many friends offer their condolences while in tears themselves and we know that lovely soul touched a lot of lives!

      • Rhonda,
        I was just asking Monica about you and Jim today and she sent me this link to your blog. OMG-I’m so touch and crying too about Maddy. What a wonderful thing you did for her. All dogs should be so free as to run on a beach-what wonderful parents.
        Many, many years ago, I found a dog wandering our neighborhood and did all the usual to find the owner which no one came forward so we kept her. Long story short we had only a few days with her, she passed suddenly. One night she was sick so I took her to the vet only to come home without her. She had distemper and her owner dropped her off to die. She was at the end of her life and I was so sadden. And disappointed that someone could leave her as such. To hear that you and Maddy had some time together just warms my heart. What a beautiful story that I’m so grateful I got to read.

        Oh P.S. I met you at one of Monica birthday partys’ years ago. Thanks for sharing Maddy. We now have a Sadie with us who loves to travel and her favorite place is the beach too. I will think of Maddy whenever we are at the coast.

        Kathy Jamison (a friend of Monica Pitney)

        • Hi Kathy,
          Yes, of course I remember you. Thank you so much for your kind words. Maddy was truly a gift to us and while we know we had to let her go, we are still deeply saddened every day to not have her with us.
          I’m sorry you were unable to help the street dog, I am constantly amazed by people’s bad behavior, but I’m sure at least for the last couple of days she felt at peace having you care for her. I’m so glad to hear that you now have Sadie…dogs are truly a gift to the soul!

  2. What a beautiful tribute you have written for your wonderful companion. By the time I finished reading, I was crying, but not because I was sad, but because I was happy that I had gotten to meet Maddy. I vividly remember the day Chloe and Maddy ran around your yard, exploring together. You made Maddy the luckiest dog in the world when you adopted her, especially when you had the choice of adopting a brand new puppy. You gave her life a new meaning, and it is obvious she has given your life a new meaning as well. We will miss Maddy. She is now on the eternal beach, running and playing herself silly.

    • Thanks so much you guys, your words mean a lot to us, knowing you got to get to know her. Hug your black beauties for us and cherish every moment with them! We do miss her dreadfully but she enriched our life beyond words and we will meet her on that beach again someday!

  3. You poor things, I know exactly how you feel, even though at 72 its 50 years since I lost Blacky, my wonderful Border Collie that I’d had from age 8. Oh, the company he was and the fun and adventures we had on beaches, in the bush and just anywhere and everywhere.
    I’d love to be able to enjoy that all over again but a Border Collie (especially) would be too active for me. I can’t wait for my grandkids to be old enough (another couple of years will do) so that I can give them a puppy each and re-live the experience through them. God bless dogs!!!

    • Thanks Richard,
      Yes, they certainly do have a way of worming into our hearts, don’t they! My condolences to you on the loss of your black dog as well. Perhaps one of these days you’ll have that experience again.

  4. My Heart Is So Sad That You Have Lost Your Loved One, I Lost My Loved One Back In October 2011, I Was With Him As He Slipped Away….I Know & Understand Your Sadness & Your Happiness…….My Little Gizzie Had Beautiful Smiling Eyes & Was Amazing Like Maddy. I Know She Will Live In Your Hearts Forever!!

    • Our heart goes out to you Robin. I think nearly everyone has had the same experiences with our much loved dogs.

  5. I know that your hearts are broken. She was such a wonderful and true friend in all ways, and that and so much more you gave back to her in these final years. To the very end she was given both dignity and the loving comfort of your presence, gifts that are so priceless. You three were indeed lucky to have found one another.
    Take comfort in all of your special memories–your immense love for her is the finest testament to how special a girl she really was. I believe that all true friends await us; in reuniting what a joyous beach party it will be!

    • Such sweet words Pennie, thank you! We are still hurting but do know that one day we will all have that party on the beach.

  6. I’m so sorry for your loss. ๐Ÿ™ We too had adopted an older dog and unfortunately had to say goodbye at Dove Lewis as well quite suddenly due to an inoperable illness. It is heart-shattering. We tried to take comfort in the fact that we had provided him with something in the last few months of his life that he had never had before: a truly safe, loving home (for the majority of his ten years, he was kept in a cage as a breeder at a puppy mill. When he came home with us, I’ll never forget the look of joy on his face when he sat on a couch for the first time! LOL). When he went, I had a sense that he was leaving feeling safe in our arms and not scared. You guys did an amazing thing by offering Maggie the same gift! She probably felt like she had won the doggie lottery when she was adopted by you guys!

    • My condolences to you as well, Jessica. It is, in fact, heart-shattering and we are still hurting. However, knowing so many others understand our pain and acknowledge how special Maddy was certainly helps. Good luck finding your next wonderful fur face!

  7. What a beautiful tribute to your baby.
    I read it through tears of joy and sadness, feeling your love for Maddy and what a wonderful time you all had together. It sounds like she was just as big as a gift for you two, as you were to her.
    I am feeling your pain of losing a companion. What a beautiful, beautiful tribute.
    Remember the good times she had with you.
    My heart goes out to you and I wish your hearts will remain full of love for the furry ones.
    A big thanks to Pixie Project for being the vehicle in facilitating these incredible cosmic connection.

    • Thank you Misha. We are still feeling the pain of losing her, but our conversation now also includes laughing memories of all of her funny and endearing behaviors. Life does move on but we know she will always hold a piece of our hearts.

  8. I am so, so sorry for your loss. You have so beautifully articulated her spirit and personality, those of us who never met Maddy are lucky enough to get to know her a little through your words and photos.
    I put my own black dog to sleep less than 2 weeks ago. (The cancer was sudden, aggressive, and untreatable.) The pain of losing a family member breaks you wide open, just as the love of a dog opens your heart in ways you never expected. You gave Maddy a beautiful, happy life and sent her on her journey with love and comfort. What a gift you gave her, and what a gift she was.

    • Hi Miriam – Please accept our deepest condolences on the loss of your baby. It’s been 1 month ago today and I still cry nearly every day, her loss has left a huge hole in our hearts. Thank you for your kind words. Maddy was an incredible member of our family and I felt a great need for others to get to know her just a little bit as well.
      We have just adopted a new black dog. Similar looking to Maddy in body, Porter is his own dog. He’s playful and silly and fitting right in to our home. Although having him here doesn’t fully erase the pain, having adopted yet another fur face to focus on has helped us begin to heal just a bit.
      We hope you, too, find it in your heart to give another wonderful dog a forever home.

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    • Thanks so much Glenn… still my favorite post to date, although I can’t read it without living the pain. Hope to have you back again soon!

  13. It just took Adrian about thirty tear-filled minutes to get read the story to me but what a lovely acknowledgment of the gift Maddy was to you guys. I am feeling your pain. We literally ache with the grief of it all. Thank you for sharing this with us. It’s nice to know we’re not alone.

    • Thank you so much. We were just speaking of you guys today, so devastated for you. It never gets easier, but be grateful that you still have some time to love Rambo and make his final days the best ever. You guys are all in our thoughts.

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